According to New York Education Department Regent Kathleen Cashin, EdD, leading a Catholic school is not unlike being a Navy SEAL.
Perhaps not everyone would connect the work of Catholic educators with activities such as swimming with sharks or rolling about the sand, Cashin said, but the school leaders who gathered at Fordham on May 28 have proven through their efforts that the two professions share some key philosophies.
Like Navy SEALs, educators embrace diversity, confront danger, persevere despite hardship, and demonstrate remarkable self-discipline, Cashin said in her keynote address at the 21st annual Catholic School Executive Leadership Dinner, hosted by the Graduate School of Education (GSE). This year, GSE recognized 13 principals whose schools have exemplary service programs.
A key navy philosophy is not to judge anyone by the size of her flippers, said Cashin, a clinical professor of educational leadership, administration, and policy. For educators, this means not allowing others’ gender, nationality, skin color, and other superficial elements hinder collaboration.
“We don’t choose many of the characteristics we have,” she said. “We have to remain open to diversity and not prejudge people. Working on that is essential to building community.”
She went on to describe an activity during SEAL training known as “the sugar cookie.” The SEALs put on their dress whites, perfecting every detail of their uniforms, and then are told to dive into the ocean and roll in the sand.
“The activity is not about having the perfect uniform—it’s about whether you can take it when you have done everything perfectly and then you’re made to run in the waves,” Cashin said. “The lesson is in humility and getting yourself up against all odds.”
For both Navy SEALs and educators, there will always be sharks to contend with. “They are taught that if the sharks start circling, never swim away. Stay your ground and face the danger head on,” she said.
Finally, Cashin said, at the heart of successful leadership is a very simple navy philosophy: Always make your bed.
“How could you be successful without self-control, or being disciplined?” she said. “And besides, even if you have a lousy day, you go home and your bed is made. You know you started out right.”
Outgoing GSE Dean James Hennessy, PhD was recognized for his longtime service to the school. Hennessy, who has served Fordham for 41 years, is stepping down after 10 years as dean to return to the GSE faculty.
“Service learning is very important, but it rests upon solid education,” said Hennessy, who received the Pro Universitate Medal at this year’s commencement ceremony.
“My great hope is that institutions like Fordham and Catholic universities across the country will continue to support K-8 Catholic education, because that is where our future leaders in ministry will come from.”